Wednesday, 27 October 2010

It's all Greek to me...

The first unit in UWA is about Ancient Greece. Athens in classical times was a dominant power. It led the way in arts, learning and philosophy. Unfortunately visual arts from this period are not very well preserved. We have examples of architecture, pottery and sculpture; but paintings, textiles and wood carvings have not survived. Much of our knowledge is dependent on written sources and Roman copies.

Here are 5 facts that I didn't know about Ancient Greece:

  • The columns in the Parthenon are not equally spaced or perfectly straight. The architects used optical refinements to compensate how our eyes view the structure from the hillside.
The Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece c.447-432 BC
  • Inside the Parthenon was a huge sculpture of Athena created by Phidias. Records describe it as being made from gold and ivory, reaching forty feet tall. It was occasionally taken outside the building for festivities!
  • Although we see the statues as plain marble or brass, they would have been colourfully painted. Copper inlays were used on the lips and nipples, silver as eyelashes and glass inlaid for eyes.
Detail of the Delphi Charioteer c.470 BC
  • A statue of Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles is thought to be the very first life-size nude female sculpture in Greek culture. Her coy posture, concealing her groin with her hand, created an image of a the female nude that was to continue for centuries in Western art.
  • The word 'barbarian' comes from Ancient Greek. To Greek ears anyone who didn't speak the same language apparently made a bar, bar sound (probably like our blah, blah today) and was therefore given the term a barbarian!
My research so far has been from A World History of Art by Hugh Honour and John Flemming, Greek Art by John Boardman, and a trip to the Burrell collection to see some pieces firsthand. One of my favourite pieces at the Burrell was a jug for pouring wine, with grazing deer circling round. It is amazing to think that this has survived whole.

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